My sister would tell me how bad the book Shepherding a Child’s Heart is because the author, Tedd Tripp, says you MUST spank. Does Tripp really emphasize obedience over God’s compassion and mercy? I had recently heard a snippet of his talk on parenting on Wretched Radio. I was impressed with what I heard; he was very gospel focused, but spanking was not mentioned. So I finally decided to read the book and see what all the fuss was.
Tedd Tripp’s overview of parenting: “It involves being authorities who are kind, shepherding your children to understand themselves in God’s world, and keeping the gospel in clear view so your children can internalize the good news and someday live in mutuality with you as people under God.” – [page xvii] I would say this sentence clearly states what his emphasis is throughout the entire book. Tedd Tripp does an excellent job of emphasizing the relationship needed between parent and child as well as the gospel being the foundation of parenting/discipline.
Do I agree with everything Mr. Tripp wrote? No, and most of what I don’t agree with comes from the part of the book on spanking. I agree with spanking as a way to discipline (teach). I agree that we need to take God’s Word seriously. “If you fail to spank, you fail to take God’s Word seriously. You are saying you do not believe what the Bible teaches about the import of these issues. If your child has not obeyed, he needs to be spanked.” – [page 149] I do not agree though that every time your child disobeys he needs to be spanked. We know from the New Testament that discipline will be painful at the time, not that it has to be physically painful though. I do believe Tripp has the proper interpretation of Proverbs 22:15 as the rod being something used to “spank”. But since it is Proverbs, I do believe the point is not the method, but the severity of sin in a child.
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.
(Proverbs 22:15 ESV)
Proverbs is considered the Book of Wisdom (compared to Leviticus which is the book of the law). Our hearts are wicked and we definitely need discipline, but does this verse say we have to spank or we are not obeying God? I just don’t see it as a command to spank, but wise instructions for a parents’ need to discipline their children. Mr. Tripp didn’t necessarily say it was a command though (although I have seen GCMers put those words into his mouth). And when you take the comment in light of everything else he wrote, I would think he would agree: if there is a problem where you can’t spank because of anger or some like reason, don’t spank! He does not neglect compassion and mercy like some GCMers will try to convince you of. GCMers really blow that one comment out of proportion because they are anti-spanking. They blow it so far out of proportion that they have to go on a mission to tell people the book is so bad it shouldn’t even be read, so bad it should be thrown away and so bad they have to hide it in libraries and book stores. Really, it is overkill. They really focus on that one comment way too much.
Mr. Tripp is definitely emphasizing the need for discipline and consistency, which I whole heartedly agree with. While I agree with his how’s of spanking in regard to any form of discipline from parents: done away from people, tell them what they have done or failed to do, remind them that discipline is not being done because you are angry but to bring about restoration, communicating with the child about exactness of what is to come, hugs and talking about why it is important to be restored, praying with reminders that in Christ there is forgiveness of sins and Jesus can help the child to obey. What I don’t agree with is pulling down the pants. I found that the best word to describe it for me was, “icky” – that sounds like a word GCMers would use. If I spanked I would not do that part (I know parents who do this but I don’t think worse of them for it). I also wouldn’t tell my child he wasn’t “sweet” enough after a spanking if he was angry. Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (ESV). Mr. Tripp thinks as soon as the spanking is over that it is later already. I don’t agree. I can understand his need for starting fresh and moving on, but that can’t be done if the other one is not ready yet. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4 ESV) Maybe that would be a good time for instruction or some time alone so you don’t provoke your child to more anger?
I must note here that Mr. Tripp does say that spanking is for the times when the child is disobeying the parent. He does not state that it needs to be done for every sin a child commits (which I think is how the GCMer may interpret him). Therefore, I am not offended by these chapters like GCMers would be because I know when used rightly (and Mr. Tripp does use spanking as a form of teaching/discipline correctly -i.e. not in anger, to teach the child, etc.) spanking can be an effective way of discipline. Disagreeing with a few sentences does not weigh as heavily as a book fraught with errors on every page. There is also a big difference between an author who does not understand the gospel and one who does!
Mr. Tripp’s chapters on communication are excellent. He also notes the difference between a punitive approach and the Biblical approach. GCMers would believe that all spanking is punitive. But when teaching is part of spanking it is not punitive. The punitive approach is a way to control behavior but it doesn’t address sin, repentance and forgiveness.
I seem to recall another trouble my sister had with this book (maybe I have remembered this incorrectly) was that parents are taught to be the Holy Spirit in the lives of their children and they always know what is in their children’s hearts. This is not how Tedd Tripp presents it at all. He knows that our behavior will be from what is in our hearts (see Luke 6:45), therefore we have to teach our children about sin, forgiveness through Christ, and knowing and glorifying God. The only thing that might come close to this is on page 86. The mother “sensed” the daughter was not really having the heart to go with her nods of agreement. He states the mother “administered correction” and the girl’s “resistance quickly melted behind a torrent of tears.” If she did receive a spanking I can see why my sister would think that Tripp knows what is in his child’s hearts all the time after only “sensing” something wrong. I don’t believe Mr. Tripp meant the girl received a spanking here because it is in the chapter on communication and he mentions Proverbs 9 which has to do with the way a mocker handles correction, rebuke and instructions. It sounds like the mother used God’s words which the Holy Spirit used to convict the girl of her mocking and scoffing ways.
Would I recommend this book to others? Yes, and maybe with the few minor caveats mentioned above – I don’t think there is any book out there I don’t recommend with cautions…except the Bible. I have no problems recommending this book because Mr. Tripp definitely has a focus on the gospel at all times: forgiveness of sins through Christ Jesus! I think the reason GCMers hate this book so much is because they believe all spanking is punitive and abusive. This is not a book about abuse! Far from it! It is not a book that people need to be warned not to read. His theology is sound even though I disagree with a few minute points of application he made.